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When Customers Become the Contact Center

Companies can empower customers with platforms that bring the contact center to them for a better experience.

David Poole
David Poole

Contact centers have been the anchor of the customer service experience for decades. But many brands now encourage customers to use digital channels like messaging apps versus calls to get help, as brands use more AI to offer smarter and faster solutions.

In many situations, the customer still has to reach out to the contact center via phone or digital channels if they need help. And with COVID-19, rather than the contact center complementing the in-person experience, in some cases it’s replacing it.

But, what if the contact center anticipated a customer’s needs before they dialed any numbers or opened any channels to get help?

What if within the next two years the customer becomes the contact center, where a virtual assistant on their mobile device is always available and able to proactively help with problems?

Contact Center Intern

By 2021, nearly 20 percent of customer service interactions globally will be handled by AI and machine learning, and in 2019, 31 percent of CIOs had already deployed conversational AI platforms, up from 21 percent in 2018, according to a Gartner analysis.

Elements of a digital-first, customer-centric and AI-infused contact center already exist in platforms like Google Duplex and Google Contact Center AI, with the latter using natural language processing, a type of machine learning, to help human agents handle complex cases. Natural language processing helps route calls to humans based on both call context and how emotionally charged a customer sounds.

“The need to speak to a human and experience the empathy unique to humans was acute when we were in shock at the start of the crisis,” said David Poole, digital business transformation strategist at Publicis Sapient. “While many people are still suffering, many are also adapting to a new normal and appreciate automation that resolves their needs quickly.”

Embracing CDPs

Considering near, medium and long-term opportunities, Poole said companies should be focused on creating solutions for the medium term (the next six to 18 months) that aren’t just quick Band-Aid solutions.

For digital-first contact centers, customer data platforms (CDPs) can turn a service call into a sales call and help bolster a business’s long term health.

Maybe we also want to embed the CDP Virtual Lab solution somewhere?

  • CDP Virtual Lab

    The CDP Virtual Lab is a digital workshop canvas that helps businesses develop a customer data platform. This cyber-laboratory provides structure and guidance to ensure the planning process is robust and fruitful with nothing left behind.

    Learn more

“If I’m having a problem with my Wi-Fi router, data can help the contact center understand exactly what I have in my house to potentially sell me on the reality that I need another router because my current one is outdated,” said Poole.

In another scenario, an Internet provider could anticipate that a power outage in a particular area would result in an Internet outage and heavy call volume. The system that operates the internet in customers’ homes could use a CDP to act fast to proactively send a text telling customers the internet is down and the provider is working to resolve the outage. Epsilon data show proactive retention measures have resulted in a 2.1 percent decline in churn rates, saving businesses more than $70,000 per month in lost revenue.

By marrying different data sources, CDPs can also help agents understand how customers are transacting outside of your brand, such as alerting that a customer transacted with a competitor just before reaching out to the contact center.

“The need to speak to a human and experience the empathy unique to humans was acute when we were in shock at the start of the crisis. While many people are still suffering, many are also adapting to a new normal and appreciate automation that resolves their needs quickly.”
David Poole, Digital Business Transformation Strategist at Publicis Sapient

New opportunities

Now more than ever is an opportunity to rethink the contact center, not patch it back together.

AI should be at the heart of a digital-first strategy, and the type of AI to use is interdependent on available data—another reason for CDP adoption. Chat bots, powered by machine learning, allow for smarter personalization and could give an agent a churn prediction score that indicates the likelihood of a customer switching to a competitor, for example. In that vein, AI can analyze a customer’s keyword searches prior to reaching out to a contact center to tell a virtual agent how to respond and direct a query.

Working from home also gives companies an advantage to innovate. Many companies have a greater ability to recruit talent from geographies they wouldn’t have considered a few months ago. Before COVID-19, Virgin had a dozen contact centers, but the crisis forced the company to close five overseas centers in India and the Philippines. The company then announced 500 new jobs to supplement its 2,350 domestic contact center staff.

In retail, the pandemic caused some stores to redeploy sales clerks as contact center agents. While training gaps persist, AI is intended to reduce the amount of interactions a human agent needs to respond to and only filter complex queries to humans.

3 Key Recommendations

Cross-industry POVs

While each industry is at different stages for upgrading contact centers to digital-first, it’s evident across industries that customers are increasingly turning to digital channels to engage with brands.

  • Financial Services: During economic downturns, banks tend to pursue cost reductions which often impact contact centers. But there’s evidence that investing in contact centers during crises pays off. More than 80 percent of the financial services firms in North America, Europe, Middle East and Asia-Pacific that use AI, automation and/or chat bots reported higher revenue growth in 2019 compared to the previous year, according to a survey from Forrester and LivePerson. The survey also found in-person and phone customer service interactions will decline by nearly four and six percent, respectively, by 2021, while online and mobile chat will increase by nearly three percent.
  • Energy: Publicis Sapient’s work with British Gas demonstrates how mobile channels can increase customer engagement and satisfaction for energy companies. In 82 days, we created an app with many industry-first features where 55 percent of customer interactions now take place. Call center volumes dropped 15 percent after the app launched, as customers are empowered to make bill payments, meter readings, tariff changes and more.
  • Travel & Hospitality: The Forrester and LivePerson survey also found travel and hospitality companies using automation, AI and chat bots in contact centers see a higher than average customer retention rate. Travel and hospitality companies saw a customer retention rate between 84.5 and 87.5 percent, about 10 to 15 percent higher than other industries’ part of the survey.

LEADing the way

Certain contact center features should be table stakes, such as letting you know your number in the queue or offering a call-back option. Some contact centers have been slow to adopt these features, but a digital-first strategy could quickly bring these online and improve customer satisfaction.

But, along with being digital-first, contact centers need to follow the LEAD playbook:

  • Be light, by resolving the reason for calling faster than expected.
  • Be ethical, by clearly disclosing how a customer's data is being used.
  • Be accessible, where customers can pick up right where they left off at any touchpoint.
  • Be dataful, like recognizing a phone number to personalize the call.
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Discover the essential focus areas for ensuring that collected data is utilized in the best possible way. With Sudharson Rangarajan, VP Engineering.

Many companies still have a lot of work to do to become digital-first, as the connection between AI and CDPs still needs improvement or to be made in the first place.But any digital-first contact center can’t be digital-only, at least not for the foreseeable future. We’ve found a digital-only approach converts 10 percent of customer service queries, whereas a human agent converts 30 percent—one dataful insight on why companies need to blend AI and humans to provide a LEAD experience.

David Poole
David Poole
Head of Financial Services Center of Excellence

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